Pasadena's Mayor Looks Ahead

Mayor Terry Tornek surveys the issues confronting Pasadena as summer ends, and the city’s pace quickens

Published : Tuesday, September 3, 2019 | 5:14 AM

Summer wanes. Today, with Labor Day passed, the city traditionally shakes off its summer attitude and gets back to business.

For Mayor Terry Tornek, the coming of fall means City Council will confront a host of developing issues, many centering around housing and development. And much of the impetus is emanating from Sacramento, not Garfield Avenue.

Tornek discussed the upcoming issues Pasadena faces in a wide-ranging interview with Pasadena Now Friday, acknowledging not only the impact of the issues, but their timeliness.

“A  lot of this will depend on what happens in the next week or two in the legislature,” Tornek began. “There are a number of really potentially historic actions that the legislature could take, and that the governor could sign.”

As Tornek described, the State Legislature has  “a whole series of housing and planning, environmental, and governance proposals in front of them.”

Tornek also noted that the proposals will have “a profound impact on the city and how we react to things.”

Housing Shortage/Rent Control:

Immediately following the Mayor’s interview, Governor Newsom and members of the State Legislature announced a deal on a possible State-wide rent control measure that could also limit evictions. No legislation is finalized, but the measure would impact Pasadena, where a thriving rent control movement is gearing up to gather signatures to qualify a rent control and “just cause evictions” measure on the municipal ballot in 2020. It is the second such attempt in two years.

“There are a number of housing and planning bills that would potentially disrupt our local land use controls,” Tornek said.

One such bill is SB 50,  which would allow a developer to submit an application for a streamlined, ministerial approval process that is not subject to a conditional use permit.  Tornek said this “would basically blow up our land use controls.”

Accessory Dwelling Units:

The State is also considering fee modifications on what cities can charge for building Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as “granny flats,” said Tornek.

Tornek also noted that the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development has changed its formulas,  “dramatically increasing what they think Pasadena’s allocation should be for new units by threefold.”

Governor Jerry Brown earlier signed a 15-bill housing package in 2017, aimed at addressing the state’s housing shortage and high housing costs. Many of those bills are coming into effect now. The package includes SB 35, which creates a streamlined approval process for developments in cities that have not yet met their housing targets. This could likely affect Pasadena, the mayor hinted.

Much of the new housing and development legislation is driven by the State’s desire to build unprecedented amounts of housing in the State to cope with the high cost of housing and its attendant homelessness.

Along with housing and development issues, there are a number of additional issues that the City will soon be facing head-on.

Major Development Projects: Space Bank, 253 South Los Robles, 127 and 141 North Madison Avenue, and 10 West Walnut:

The recently announced cleanup plans for Space Bank Mini-Storage development site in East Pasadena will likely be argued for some time, noted the mayor, as well as the planned housing development at 253 South Los Robles Avenue, which the City Council recently agreed to reconsider, should the developer be willing to make agreed-upon changes. Ten Walnut, the largest development in the City’s history, will also be in construction over the next few years, with local hiring and sourcing becoming larger part of its equation, said Tornek.

YWCA in the Civic Center:

Bids and proposals will also be due in late September on the long-controversial YWCA building in Centennial Square in the Civic Center. The building was proposed to become a luxury boutique hotel in 2017, but after an outcry from preservationists, and increased concession demands from the developer, the Council halted the project and agreed to hear new proposals.

“That’s the building that I proposed should be permanent supportive housing for homeless women, “ said Tornek.  “but I wasn’t able to get five votes. And some of my colleagues think it should be a boutique hotel. We’ll have continued discussions.”

Reorganization of Pasadena Police Department:

As the Mayor and Council deal with all of that, Police Chief John Perez will soon announce details of a reorganization of the police department, a subject which he recently described briefly to the Public Safety Committee.

City Council Election and National Candidates:

Add to these issues the fact that the City will soon be gearing up for a new City Council election. Along with that, national presidential candidates will be visiting Southern California, and will likely make Pasadena a stop, the mayor acknowledged.

Pasadena Unified School District:

Meanwhile, in an announcement from the Superintendent to stakeholders, Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) said they will continue to discuss the possibility of school closures as financial pressures continue and enrollment declines.

PUSD is also planning to ask Pasadena voters to approve a new $850 million bond measure next year, and for a possible parcel tax for November 2020, which will be the third bond issue from PUSD since 1997.

710 Extension and the Stub:

The decades-long battle over the 710 extension, which for most intents, constructions, and purposes ended in 2018, will likely spark new battles.

Assuming that the state legislation moves favorably, said Tornek, the City will begin planning the future development of the freeway terminus’ “stub.”

The City has looked at architectural plans that would fill in the freeway stub and bring it back up to street level.

In addition, at least two non-profits—Arlington Gardens and Ronald McDonald house—could be interested in reclaiming their original property, used to build the proposed freeway extension.

In April, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 7, the State Highway Route 710 bill, authored by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge). The bill would allow the surplus non-profit properties to be purchased at their current use value.

SB 7 would also prohibit Caltrans from implementing a tunnel surface freeway or expressway for Route 710 between Route 10 and Route 210, and it lays the foundation for the state to return surplus freeway stubs back to local cities in the freeway corridor.

Said Tornek, “All those nonprofits want to find their way clear to gaining permanent title to their real estate. And we’ll be helping with that. There’s just a lot of ongoing work associated with all this.”

“There’s going to be no shortage of things for you to cover,” the Mayor told Pasadena Now.

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